Recent global research from Radisson Meetings found that the vast majority of event planners (76%) say there is now a greater expectation for events to reflect an understanding of issues related to sustainability, diversity and inclusion. In addition, the research reveals that event planners that report an ROI of 25%+ on their events are significantly more likely to give consideration to issues of sustainability, diversity and inclusion.
This move towards more sustainable events has been driven by global progress on the issue as a whole, according to Inge Huijbrechts, global senior vice president for responsible business and safety & security at Radisson Hotels Group.
“In the aftermath of the COP 21 accord [the United Nations Paris Agreement], there started to be a movement of the private sector to say, ‘What does the private sector need to do to contribute to achieving this global target?’,” she says. “By 2030, the carbon footprint of the hotel industry needs to be reduced by 60%, and by 90% by 2050.”
Laying the groundwork
So, how can event planners convert these industry goals into concerted action on the ground?
Moving towards more sustainable events is not something that simply happens overnight. It’s an ongoing, long-term commitment that requires serious consideration before, during and after events; and one that affects every stage of the supply chain.
One of the most important first steps that businesses can take towards more sustainable events is to commit internal resources. Appointing a senior leader responsible for the overall mission will ensure that sustainability goals are owned and executed.
Raising public awareness of sustainability issues is another crucial step for event planners to consider as important groundwork. Sustainable Brands’ David Fiss points to avoiding single-use items as an example of how events planners and venues can work together to create change.
“There was a day when none of us looked at straws as anything negative – and it’s hard to remember that day now, it’s changed so quickly,” he explains. “It’s a great example of how an issue becomes global, creates awareness, and then people act on it. Now, it’s hard to get a plastic straw.”
In addition to important preparatory groundwork, there are numerous examples of how planners are reducing environmental impact during events. This can range from ensuring journeys to and from airports are carbon offset to sourcing local, seasonal food and providing all event communication digitally.
At large corporate events, thousands of plastic lanyards are worn for only a few days before being sent to landfill. Many planners are looking to combat this through lanyard return or recycle schemes. Salesforce, for instance, managed to collect more than 2,000 lanyards at its Dreamforce event in November 2018.1
Other planners are making a difference through the food they serve at events. As part of its efforts to work toward the ISO 20121 industry standard, B2B publisher and events company Incisive Media2 recently committed to reducing the amount of red meat it serves, and to only serving fish from sustainable sources.
Working toward standards like ISO 20121 is a major commitment, and it has helped a number of planners to reach their sustainability goals. In 2013, the Eurovision Song Contest3 achieved the ISO status for its work in Malmö, Sweden, through a number of initiatives, such as encouraging the use of public transport for its 100,000 visitors, serving ecologically and locally produced food, and providing attendees with refillable water bottles.
High-profile events are also managing to make a difference when it comes to sustainability. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting sees political and business leaders from around the world convene in Davos – an act which itself leaves a major carbon footprint. In recognition of this, and in line with its commitment to sustainability, the WEF compensates4 by buying corresponding amounts of carbon credits from South Pole, an organization that supports emission-reduction projects.
At Radisson Hotel Group First we focus on turning emissions into impact our their 100% carbon neutral meetings. We’re proud to be the only hotel group which is automatically offsetting the carbon footprint for every single meeting and event taking place at our hotels. Each year we offset more than 38,300 CO2e tones which is the equivalent of taking 8,300 cars off the road.
Radisson Meetings’ global footprint is offset in partnership with First Climate, one of the world’s largest carbon offset organizations, and through projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have a positive social impact.
Sharing success stories
Commitment to sustainability should not end when an event does. It’s important for planners to share their stories with attendees in order to maintain momentum for future events.
Sustainable Brands’ Fiss admits that some brands were hesitant to talk about sustainability in the past. “There's the notion of greenwashing,” he says. “Then there's the opposite: green hush, or green modesty, where brands are shy of talking about their good work. Part of the reason that we are proponents of sharing stories is that they create awareness and a ripple effect in terms of systemic change.”
This means creating space for coverage of sustainability during keynote speeches, in follow-up emails and in any post-event content that is shared with a wider community of delegates.
Smart, sustainable, lucrative
These are just a few of the examples of sustainable practices that should inspire event planners and venues. Put that best practice together with their growing awareness that a more responsible business is often a more profitable one, and sustainability is set to become standard across the events industry.
“We can't just say, ‘Let's give away a promotional item,” says Fiss. “People need to get more creative. My premise is that sustainability is actually inspiring a lot of event planners and venues to do something different, to disrupt themselves in a positive way, to be more innovative. And that will affect their bottom line and the overall quality of an event.”